By Ray Hamill — Former Fortuna pitcher Hailey Dolcini is expecting big things for the Fresno State Bulldogs when they return to the softball field in 2021.
Like many collegiate athletes around the country, Dolcini had her season cut short this year because of COVID-19, but she and the Bulldogs were headed in the right direction at the time and on the verge of a huge season.
And now, with a return likely in January, Dolcini and her teammates have some unfinished business to take care of.
“We’re just hoping to continue the magical season we were having,” said the 2017 Fortuna High graduate. “And I think we’re even more motivated now that we got a taste of that success.”
With Dolcini leading the way in the pitcher’s circle, the Bulldogs were 21-7 when the shutdown came and riding a three-week run in the top-25, rising as high as No. 24.
The former H-DNL standout was 10-1 with a save and an ERA of 1.51, with 77 strikeouts in 65 innings.
Dolcini says the team has a self-belief now, after matching up well with several top-10 teams, including a memorable 4-3 win over No. 3 Texas, with the former Husky tossing six strong innings for the win.
“We really don’t fear anyone,” she added.
And with all but one starter returning, Dolcini and the Bulldogs have every reason to feel optimistic for 2021.
She has been back in Fresno since July, and while team practices remain prohibited for now, she has been working out with a pitching coach independent of the team.
“As of right now, as far as we’re concerned, we are having a season,” she said. “None of our tournaments have been canceled.”
The Red Wave
Dolcini, a four-time league MVP at Fortuna, has settled in well at Fresno, since transferring from UC Riverside after her freshman season in 2018.
“Overall, the experience has been phenomenal. We have the best stadium on the West Coast by far, and the Red Wave — that’s what we call our fans — show up at every game to support us,” said Dolcini, who plays in front of 1,500 fans at home games. “It’s pretty insane. The support from the community is amazing.”
She also has enjoyed playing alongside her teammates at Fresno State.
“I’ve never played with a better group of girls than I have at Fresno,” she said.
The former Fortuna standout continues to work hard on her game and look for ways to improve every season.
And playing for a top-25 Division-I program, she knows there is no room for complacency.
“I think the best part (of playing at Fresno State) is I’m constantly challenged to stay on top of my game,” she said. “My goal is always to be improving on my personal stats, and if I can do that I know it will help my team.”
Dolcini has been helping her teammates her entire career, since getting her start at age 7 with Humboldt Fastpitch Softball.
She says her family — father Bobby, mother Kalynn and sister Camrin — have all helped and supported her, as have coaches Eric Helms and Kelly Helms.
“My father in particular, he’s been my coach since I was 7 or 8, back when I was starting my journey,” Dolcini said. “The support and the bond we have made over the game has been incredible.
“And my mom and sister have always supported me.”
Dolcini also says she has nothing but great memories from her playing days with the Huskies, which saw them win four straight league titles and the first three H-DNL tournaments.
“I will never forget my four years at Fortuna, with coach (Eric) Helms and my dad,” she said. “Such great memories. And I remember the amount of support we would get.”
Dolcini isn’t the only member of that legendary Fortuna team to go on to play at at the collegiate level, with her catcher Jenna Christensen playing at McPherson College in Kansas, an NAIA program.
The two former teammates still get together for a little practice any time they’re both back in the area.
“She’s having great success at McPherson,” Dolcini said. “It’s just so much fun to get to talk to her. And it’s always fun to throw to her again.”
The 2021 season was supposed to be Dolcini’s final campaign at the collegiate level, but because of a shortened season this past spring she has been given an extra year of eligibility.
“I’m excited this won’t be my last go-around,” she said, adding that she will put off graduation for a year in order to take advantage of the opportunity.